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Tom Watson has a memorable first round at British Open

TURNBERRY, Scotland

Tom Watson, famous for winning the "Duel in the Sun" that forever links him with Turnberry, is at the stage in his career where the British Open should be a ceremonial stroll into the sunset. This is the era of Tiger Woods. This is the title defense of Padraig Harrington. Yet at age 59, with wrinkles framing his gap-tooth grin, Watson poured in birdie after birdie, reviving his spiritual connection on Scottish links with a bogey-free 5-under 65. "There's certain shots on the golf course that I remember how to play," Watson said. His name was atop the leaderboard Thursday for six hours, giving Turnberry the buzz that Woods couldn't deliver, until Miguel Angel Jimenez came through with a 66-foot birdie putt on the final hole for 64 and his first lead in a major. Even then, the 45-year-old Spaniard knew the moment belonged to Watson. "What a legend," Jimenez said.

Watson said two weeks ago that his primary objective was to play well to "compete against the kids," some of whom where not born when he won his epic duel against Jack Nicklaus in 1977.

Watson, though, couldn't help but embrace the memories himself on the eve of the British Open. He told of receiving a text message from Nicklaus' wife, Barbara, wishing him luck at Turnberry.

"I texted her back and said, 'You know, we really miss you over here,' " he said. "And I really meant it. It's not the same without Jack playing in the tournament."

At times, it looked the same.

Dressed in an argyle sweater, Watson fired a 9-iron into 8 feet for birdie on the opening hole. He dropped in another birdie from 20 feet on the 489-yard third and never backed off. In surprisingly still conditions, he made it around Turnberry without bogey, holing a 6-foot par putt on the last hole.

"I can still beat this golf course somehow," Watson said.

Jimenez also played bogey-free and finished strong. He hit a 5-wood onto the green at the par-5 17th for a two-putt birdie from 65 feet, then made a birdie putt on 18 from just off the front of the green. "Since I woke up this morning, you can see through the window and you look at the sea, it looked like a pond. So nice, so calm," he said. "You can't ask a better day to play golf. It took care of me."

It was a rare day along the Ayrshire coast with barely a breeze. Fifty players broke par, including 52-year-old Mark O'Meara and 49-year-old Mark Calcavecchia, the former University of Florida standout, among six former Open champs who shot 68 or better..

"I feel inspired playing here," said Watson, who won four of his five claret jugs in Scotland, none more memorable than at Turnberry. "A lot of it has to do with just being in the presence here at Turnberry again, just a culmination of a lot of things that have gone on already. I feel that I'm playing well enough to win the golf tournament. It doesn't feel a whole lot out of the ordinary from 32 years ago, except that I don't have the confidence in my putting as I had 32 years ago.

"But again," he said, flashing that famous grin, "a few of them might go in."

Leaderboard

Playertotal

1. Miguel Jimenez -664

T2. Tom Watson -5 65

T2. Ben Curtis-565

T2. Kenichi Kuboya -565

NotableS

Mark Calcavecchia -367

Mark O'Meara -3 67

John Daly-268

Padraig Harrington -169

Tiger Woods +171

Greg Norman +777

Weather: Cloudy with periods of rain. High near 60. Winds north at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 70 percent. Rainfall around a quarter of an inch.

TV: 7 a.m., TNT

Oldies but goodies: Great performances from those who beat back Father Time. 2C

Tom Watson has a memorable first round at British Open 07/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 17, 2009 7:41am]

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